Syria ships out first batch of chemical arms materials, says UN watchdog

OPCW does not say what percentage of "most critical" chemicals are on Danish vessel.

Cargo ships to transfer chemcial weapons from Syria 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Cargo ships to transfer chemcial weapons from Syria 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
WASHINGTON – An initial batch of Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons was shipped to sea on Tuesday, marking the beginning of the destruction of the Assad regime’s massive chemical arsenal.
The first quantity of “priority” chemical weapons, deemed the most hazardous materials in the stockpile of Syrian President Bashar Assad, were transported to Lattakia, verified by the United Nations Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and then loaded onto a Danish commercial vessel.
Denmark, Norway, and Syria itself provided naval escorts for the first ship.
“The vessel has now left the port of Lattakia for international waters,” Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator on the project, said in a statement.
“It will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port.”
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon congratulated the OPCW in a statement on their progress.
“The secretary-general welcomes the continuing progress in the international effort to eliminate the chemical weapons program of the Syrian Arab Republic, as demonstrated by this latest achievement,” his spokesman said.
The OPCW hoped to remove all priority chemical weapons by the end of 2013, but were delayed due to ongoing security challenges on the ground, as well as inclement weather, UN officials said.
The OPCW called on the government of Assad to pick up momentum in handing over the remaining chemicals.
“We are exhorting the Syrian government to intensify its efforts, so we can conclude the critical part of this mission absolutely as fast as the conditions allow,” Michael Luhan, spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said on Wednesday.
“We are happy to see there is finally movement. We hope to see that [this] movement continues regularly now through the next few weeks, so we can get these chemicals out of the country as quickly as possible.”Reuters contributed to this report